Motorcycle Helmet Laws and Recovery for Injuries

aftermath of a motorcycle accident; bike on its side

Because statistics consistently show that wearing helmets significantly protect motorcycle riders, many states have enacted laws that require at least some riders to be wearing a helmet whenever they are riding. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates, for every 100 motorcyclists killed in a crash while not wearing a helmet, 37 would have survived if they had been wearing a helmet. In addition, studies have shown huge reductions in non-fatal injuries achieved by helmets being worn during motorcycle accidents. In some states, all riders must wear helmets, while in others only riders under a certain age are required to wear helmets. There are three states which do not have any helmet laws at all: Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire.

Because of existing helmet laws in almost all states, whether or not a motorcyclist is wearing a helmet when a motorcycle accident occurs can very seriously impact their ability to recover compensation for injuries to the head and neck that occurred. In situations where there is no head or neck injury, it will make little difference whether you are wearing a helmet. In some circumstances, wearing a helmet may provide an intangible benefit in your case, by demonstrating that you are a responsible rider, but the impact to the damages is minimal. If you were wearing a helmet and you suffered head or neck injuries, whether or not you were required by law to wear a helmet, your case is much stronger. The ability to demonstrate that you were wearing a helmet goes a long way towards disproving negligence on your part. It also give you leverage for discussing how dangerous the other driver’s actions were—and what the consequences would have been if you were not wearing a helmet.

In states that do not require riders to wear a helmet, you may still find it very difficult to recover for your injuries. Even though the state does not require the helmet to be worn, you may have your damages reduced for your head or neck injury due to the concept of “comparative negligence” that many states have adopted. If your failure to wear a helmet contributed to the severity of your injuries, that is an argument that the insurance adjuster will make very strongly; even if it did not, there are many statistics that can be provided to the court that document that wearing a helmet generally reduces the severity of head and neck injuries. If your state requires you to wear a helmet, it will become even more difficult for you to recover damages for your head injury; the law automatically establishes your comparative negligence. You may still be able to collect compensation for your other injuries, and you may potentially be able to prove that the injury would have occurred even with a helmet. The latter option is extremely difficult, however, and is best attempted by a seasoned, experienced personal injury lawyer who can back the assertion up with expert testimony.

The best option, of course, is to always wear a helmet. In addition to the fact that it will protect you from allegations of comparative negligence—at least to a degree—the helmet may save your life, or at least save you from a lengthy recovery that may last the rest of your life and diminish your ability to enjoy the work, hobbies, and companionship that you enjoyed before your motorcycle accident.

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